'The cut is uncut' -- the films of Nagisa Oshima

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'The cut is uncut' -- the films of Nagisa Oshima

The avant-garde and offbeat Seoul Art Cinema rarely sports a "sold out" sign. But it did last Sunday for the first screening of the classic and sexually explicit "In the Realm of Senses," directed by Nagisa Oshima.

It was the first uncut screening of the controversial 1976 Japanese film in Korea. Kim Hong-rok, an organizer of the event, was amazed at the unexpected number of viewers, especially expatriates. Around 8:30 p.m., Mr. Kim proudly announced that the night will be remembered in history.

There are still a few chances left to find a place in history, as the retrospective continues until Saturday. The films are presented with English and Korean subtitles, with the exceptions of "In the Realm of Senses," which comes in French and Korean, and "The Catch," which is Korean-only.

Mr. Oshima, born in 1932, has always stood on the forefront of avant-garde Japanese cinema. Often called Japan's Jean-Luc Goddard, Mr. Oshima used to say, "To make a film is to commit a crime." And he meant it. His storytelling and cinematography were always stirring and intense enough to clash with the censorship and taboos of post-war Japanese society. His movies rarely survived the censors' scissors unscathed, despite the the critical acclaim they've received, thus the director made many of his films in France.

As a law student at Kyoto University, Mr. Oshima was more interested in politics than studying. No wonder he devoted himself to making movies full of political ideas in the 1960s. "Cruel Story of Youth" (1960) is one such film, depicting a reckless love story of a young couple trying to resist the rules of society, only to encounter tragic ends. Despite the rather crude acting, the film deserves its position as a classic for its well-built structure and experimentalism. Mr. Oshima also showed deep interest in isolated, marginalized people, including Korean-Japanese people as depicted in "Yunbogi's Diary" (1965) and "Death by Hanging" (1968).

Entering the 1970s, however, his greatest concern moved from politics to morality and the physical love of individuals. Thus was born his 1976 work, "In the Realm of the Senses," the most controversial Oshima film. Based on a true story of Abe Sada, a servant woman who was so sexually obsessed with her noble lover that she strangled him, cut off his genitals and ran away. What makes this showing more meaningful is that "the cut is uncut," as it were.

The film is graphic, and the leading actor and actress appear mostly undressed and making love. After its release, Mr. Oshima was accused of obscenity in Japan. The lawsuit, however, did not bother the director; instead it inspired him more to produce "The Empire of Passion" in 1978, which earned him the director's award at the Cannes International Film Festival. Mr. Oshima depicted the love story of a young man and a married woman who end up killing her husband.

After his making his last film, "Taboo" (2000), Mr. Oshima suffered a stroke and is still compatose.

by Chun Su-jin

Seoul Art Cinema is in the basement of the ArtSonje Center, Anguk-dong, near Insa-dong, in central Seoul. Take subway No. 3 line, to Anguk Station and use exit No. 1. Walk about 10 minutes north, passing an antique stone wall built in the Joseon Dynasty. Art Sonje Center is right across the library. Each screening costs 5,000 won (about $4) and advance ticketing is available on www.maxmovie.com. For more information, call (02) 595-6002.
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